Robert Louis Stevenson around Paris

“The air of Paris is alive with technical inspiration”

(RLS, “Fontainebleau”, in Across the Plains with Other Memories and Essays [London: Chatto and Windus, 1892], p. 117)

RLS and Paris

According to his stepson, “mentally [Stevenson] was half a Frenchman; in taste, habits, and prepossessions he was almost wholly French. Not only did he speak French admirably and read it like his mother-tongue, but he loved both country and people, and was really more at home in France than anywhere else”

(Lloyd Osbourne, “Introduction”, New Arabian Nights, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Tusitala edn, vol i [London: Heinemann, 1924], p. xx)

Paris itself held a particular fascination for RLS. Richard Ambrosini and Richard Dury described the draw that it had for both RLS and his cousin Bob:

“Edinburgh, late 1860s. Two young gentlemen, two cousins, their heads buzzing with ideas and artistic ambitions (one dreaming of becoming a painter, the other a writer), hang over North Bridge ‘watching the trains start southward and longing to start too’, the Walter Scott Monument a short way behind them, but their eyes fixed on the tracks leading South—not just to London, but also, and especially, to Paris”

(“Introduction”, European Stevenson, ed. by Richard Ambrosini and Richard Dury [Cambridge Scholars Publications, forthcoming December 2009].

George Balfour (RLS’s biographer and cousin) suggests that while places like Barbizon and Grez had a strong influence on RLS, “Paris provided more variety and more diversion. There Stevenson stayed, in all manner of lodgings, varying from Meurice’s Hotel (which was little to his liking) to students’ accommodation in the Quartier Latin, and scattered throughout a region extended from Montmartre on the north to Mont Parnasse on the south”

(George Balfour, The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson [London: Elibron Classics, 2005], p. 97).

A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900 (1908) by Will H. Low (painter and close friend to RLS), will give you more information about RLS in Paris – the drinking, the flanerie, and the bohemian lifestyle that he cultivated there. RLS himself described Paris in his essay “Fontainebleau” (1884), later included in Across the Plains (1892).

Although Paris was an inspirational place for RLS, like London, it was also often a stopping-place en route to somewhere else.

On this page you will find more information about following in RLS’s footsteps in Paris. You will find a list of his fiction that was set in the city, as well as a listing of dates he was in the city and where he stayed.

Paris in RLS’s Fiction

Paris often figures in RLS’s fiction. In “The Story of a Lie” (1879), for example, Dick meets his lover’s father (a parasitic and false man) in Paris. In New Arabian Nights (1882) it is at a hotel in Paris where Silas Q Scuddamore finds a body in his room.

Paris is a site of temptation and ruin in “The Treasure of Franchard” (1883, later included in The Merry Men) for the unfortunate Desprez. In Catriona (1893), Catriona, David and Alan travel to Paris to consult with the chieftain about what to do with Catriona’s father.

In St Ives (1897) the eponymous hero is in Paris where he waits to hear from Flora (although this part of the story was supplied by Arthur Quiller-Couch rather than RLS himself).

Of all of these fictions, it is The Wrecker (1892) which gives the best indication of RLS’s own experiences of the city (and his visits to Fontainebleau and Barbizon). The novel describes the life of the student artist in Paris, and RLS even introduces himself and his cousin Bob into the story as the brothers Stennis.

Dates and Addresses in Paris

  • When RLS was 12, he, his mother, father, cousin Elizabeth (Bessie) Stevenson and nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) travelled through Europe from 2 January – 20 May 1863. They stayed in Paris on 7 January 1863 at the Hotel Meurice. While there, they visited Notre Dame, L’Eglise de la Madeleine and the Tuileries Palace. Read more information on RLS’s travels through Europe in 1863.
  • 20 December 1863: RLS travelled from London to Paris to spend Christmas in Mentone with parents.
  • 4 September 1872: RLS was in Paris (via Boulogne-sur-Mer and Strasbourg) on his way to Edinburgh after a week with his parents in Baden Baden. He had met with his parents after a trip to Frankfurt with Walter Simpson.
  • 6 November 1873: RLS left London for Mentone via Dover, Paris, Sens, Dijon, Lyons, Orange, Avignon and Marseille. He had been “ordered south” for health reasons. For more information on his stay in Mentone, see the page in the Footsteps section devoted to Mentone.
  • When he was returning from convalescing in Mentone, RLS stayed in Paris for most of April 1874. He stayed in Hotel St Romain, and with Bob in Hotel de Russie, 4 Rue Racine Paris. He then moved to Hotel du Globe, Rue des Ecoles. RLS returned to Edinburgh on 26 April 1874 after staying in London from 22-26 April.
  • 29 March – 19 April 1875: During this period RLS was in Paris and Barbizon. He arrived in Paris on 29 March and wrote letters from the Café du Senat, Pres du Luxembourg, Paris. When he was not in Barbizon, he stayed at Hotel de Russie, 4 Rue Racine, Paris. He also wrote letters from the Café Palais Royal in Paris.
  • In August 1875 RLS was again at Paris and Barbizon. He spent his time there with his cousin Bob and Walter Simpson. In late August, RLS and Simpson took a walking tour of the valley of the Loing. RLS then briefly returned to Paris before traveling with his parents in Germany from 2 – 6 September. He then returned to Paris on 6 Sept 1875. Once more he stayed at Hotel de Russie, 4 Rue Racine. During this trip, he wrote letters from a café in Boulevard St Michel. RLS returned home to Edinburgh on 25 September.
  • On 14 September 1876, RLS and Simpson finished the canoe trip in Belgium and France that RLS would later describe in An Inland Voyage (1878). RLS then went to Paris and then to Grez, where he met Fanny for the first time (some critics disagree about when their first meeting took place, arguing it might have been before RLS and Simpson’s trip, in July 1876. Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew in The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], however, make a good case for placing the meeting after the “inland voyage”, in September 1876). After his trip to Grez, RLS was in Paris again on 11 October 1876. He returned to Edinburgh on the 16th.
  • January 1877: RLS was in Paris for the month of January, staying with Fanny Osbourne at 5 Rue Douay. He returned to London around 10 February 1877.
  • 19 June – 19 July 1877: RLS left for Paris and Grez on 19 June. He returned to Edinburgh on 19 July.
  • September and October 1877: RLS was in Paris and Grez with Fanny Osbourne, staying at 5 Rue Ravignan. In October RLS stayed at Maison Lavenue, Rue du Depart, Paris.
  • 29 December 1877 – February 1878: On 29 December, RLS was in Paris. He then travelled to Dieppe where he stayed with Fanny Osbourne. He would often travel between the cities throughout January and February. In January he wrote to his mother from a café in Boulevard St Michel (probably Café de la Source, from where he wrote to his father on 15 February 1878). In January, he stayed at 29 Rue des Abbesses, Montmartre, Paris. In early February he moved to Hotel Meurice, Paris. He moved again, in mid-February, to the Paris Hotel Canterbury, 44 Boulevard Haussman, Paris. He returned to London on 11 March 1878.
  • 7 June 1878 – 11 July 1878: On 7 June, RLS left Edinburgh for Paris. He stayed in Hotel Mirabeau, moving to Hotel du Val de Grace, rue St Jacques in late June/early July. On 11 July he left Paris for Grez.
  • Between 11 July and early August 1878, RLS stayed in Grez (spending a day in Barbizon). In early August RLS went to London to see Fanny and her children who were preparing to return home to Fanny’s husband (they left for New York from Liverpool on 15 August). It is unclear how they left their relationship at that point. Stevenson was, however, deeply upset about the departure and depressed about his future with Fanny. He returned to Paris from around 15-28 August and then left for his walking tour of the Cevennes (passing first through Montargis, Le Puy and Monastier. He later wrote about the walk in Travels with a Donkey [1879]).
  • After RLS’s walking tour of the Cevennes (see above), RLS travelled to Lyons, Autun and Paris in October 1878. He also visited Cernay-la-Ville on 18 October before travelling to London in late October.
  • RLS briefly holidayed in Cernay-la-Ville France in June 1879. He arrived in Paris on 25 June 1879 and stayed there on the way to returning home to Edinburgh.
  • 19 0ctober – 3 November 1880: RLS left London and stopped in Paris and Troyes on his way to Davos, Switzerland. He would spend the winter here for his health, staying until April 1881.
  • c. 26 April – 18 May 1881: RLS was in Paris staying at Hotel St Romain, 5 et 7 Rue Saint-Roch after a trip to Barbizon. Around 1 May he moved to Hotel du Pavillon, Henry IV, St Germain-en-Laye. St Germain-en-Laye is in the western suburbs of Paris. RLS was very ill during his stay there and unfortunately the St Germain hotel was expensive. RLS had to wire for funds to pay to leave it so that he could return to the Hotel St Romain. He stayed in Paris until 18 May 1881 when returned to London and then to Edinburgh.
  • RLS was in Paris again in October 1881, on his way to Davos Switzerland via Zurich. He was going to spend his second winter in Davos for his health and would stay at Davos until April 1882. RLS was certainly in Paris on 13 October, when he wrote letters from a café on the corner of Rue St Honore, Rue des Pyramides.
  • After wintering in Davos (see above), RLS was in Paris again, en route to Edinburgh (via London). He was here sometime between 20 and 27 April 1882.
  • Between 8 September and 9 October 1882, RLS travelled from Edinburgh via London and Paris to Montpellier with Bob Stevenson. He had been “ordered south” by Dr Andrew Clark. RLS was in Montpellier, Marseille and Nice before finally settling in Hyeres until June 1884.
  • 11 August 1886: RLS and his wife went for a 10-day holiday in Paris staying with Will H. Low and his wife. The Low’s address was 12 Rue Vernier. At this time W.E. Henley and his wife were also in Paris. The Stevensons returned to Bournemouth around 25 August 1886. This 10-day visit was the last time that RLS would be in Paris, and indeed Europe, with one exception: the Ludgate Hill which would take him, his wife, his mother, Lloyd, and the maid, Valentine Roch to the USA, called at Le Havre, France on 23 August 1887 en route to New York.